Tesla Motors is probably the most interesting carmaker on the planet. In less than a decade, Tesla has gone from being a pie-in-the-sky business concept to an internationally recognized, publicly traded auto manufacturer. It was only four years ago that Tesla started selling the highly-acclaimed Tesla Roadster, and only a few months since the equally acclaimed Model S hit the streets. And now, Tesla is expanding construction of its very own solar-powered “Supercharger” network, which provides super-fast battery charging to the Model S. Maybe it’s time for Mercedes to hand over the slogan, “Are we there yet.”
During the unveiling ceremony, Tesla’s co-founder, Elon Musk, said the Supercharger infrastructure will allow Model S owners to charge their vehicles with up to 180 miles of range in 30 minutes—cutting the time that it would normally take in half. The reduced charging time is accomplished by delivering 100 kw of electricity, roughly double the amount considered for a quick charge. However, not all Tesla’s can take advantage of the quick charging technology. The onboard system required to use the Supercharger is only standard on the 85kWh Model S (300 mile range). It will be optional on the 60 kWh Model S (230 mile range), but not available on 40 kWh models (140 miles). My guess is the shorter range of 40kWh models may not be adequate to make it between stations.
Though Tesla has plans to greatly expand its Supercharger network, there are currently just six stations in operation. The stations are shaped like spaceships to attract attention, but also as a homage to Musk’s other company, SpaceX. The existing network is strategically spread out in California along the freeway to enable travel between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, L.A. and San Francisco, and the Bay area and Lake Tahoe. By driving very conservatively, Motortrend made it from L.A. to Las Vegas in Musk’s personal 85 kWh Model S on a single charge with range to spare. During the unveiling of the Supercharger network, Musk said dozens more will be rolled out over the next two years, and in four or five years, the charging stations will cover the entire U.S. (see “unveiling ceremony” for more details).
Tesla’s Supercharger network will also create energy on a net basis. Where possible, the charging stations will be powered by SolarCity, where Musk sits as Chairman. The fact that Supercharger stations are powered by the sun should assuage skeptics who claim electric vehicles just shift their emissions upstream.
Image from Elon Musk’s Presentation